Interview: Emily Yacina + Yohuna
Since 2011, friends Emily Yacina and Johanne Swanson (Yohuna) have been writing and releasing their own music—just not always together. Starting their recording processes at similar times, the two have mirrored one another, crafting and developing their own brands of ambient pop simultaneously, yet, thousands of miles apart. For Swanson, these years were marked by her move to Berlin and compiling the experiences that would soon become her spellbinding LP, Patientness. And for Yacina, this meant starting her undergrad career in New York and weighing the role that music would play in her future.
However, as their material grew and evolved independently, when the two finally met, their lasting friendship has been accompanied by an invaluable relationship both as collaborators and bandmates. Recently beginning to tour as a duo, Swanson and Yacina decided to collectively redesign their sets—meshing and tightening their sound to include one another’s presence and accommodate each other’s voices. In blending their similarities, the two also highlight their contradictions, building and weaving their separate personalities together to reimagine and reconstruct their live performances.
Bringing their combined tour to Muddy Waters early this March, we caught up with both Swanson and Yacina to discuss their working relationship and how it has affected and furthered each other’s projects.
hope: How did you two meet? And how did you decide to start playing together?
Johanne: I was a big fan of Emily’s music when I was living in Berlin. I remember the first time I heard it, I stopped [it], and I showed it to somebody at a party, and I was like haven’t you just never heard something like this before? And then we just happened to be at the same party and had like this drunk, sweet interaction, and we stayed pretty casual acquaintances for about a year.
Emily: Yeah, we would see each other around—we would be at a lot of the same spaces, and we were friendly.
Johanne: And then Emily asked me to play synth in her band. We did that for about a year through different variations – we played some shows as Emily Yacina, some shows as a duo. Emily learned how to play my songs and do my project because we decided it would be cool to do the duo tour together.
hope: I was going to ask because I know, Emily, a lot of your stuff is solo, and Johanne, you usually do three parts for your recorded and live arrangements. Did it take a long time to transcribe each of your material into touring as a duo? Because Emily, you had to add a part, and Johanne, you had to strip things down.
Emily: Well since Johanne had been playing with me for a little bit before the tour, it was easier, but I was definitely nervous about learning [Johanne’s] songs on top of mine.
Johanne: Yeah, I feel like my band has gone through a lot of arrangements—because I’ve moved around so much and, I don’t know, people have busy lives, I can’t ask them to commit to my solo project. But that’s also [where] I draw a lot of the creative inspiration from—just like playing with different people, being with different people—collaboration is really important to me. It’s also sort of a new exploration of the songs.
hope: Do you two ever collaborate or critique each other’s stuff? I was just wondering what your relationship is as collaborators.
Emily: It’s weird because it’s not like having someone else play on the songs who plays an instrument. It’s definitely feels much more intimate because Johanne and I are such good friends. But I think that comes with newfound understanding of each other because in explaining the structure of one of my songs, [Johanne] will be like “oh this makes sense.” I don’t know; when we learn the songs together, we are constantly learning new things about each other. Especially how we operate as artists.
Johanne: It’s so great understanding someone else’s writing process and style in such a deep way.
Emily: And that just being another layer on an already good friendship. It’s really cool.
hope: Do you two work differently? Or is your writing and creative process similar?
Emily: [To Johanne:] What do you think?
Johanne: I think we work quite differently. It’s kind of like you said earlier, Emily is much more of a solo project, and when she’s teaching me a song, she’ll be like “okay, this is the part.” My project is a little more drawing from collaboration—I mean I am the main songwriter, and I do write all of the parts, but sometimes I’ll be like “here, you can try something out” you know? I think a lot of our songs do relate in subject matter and I think sonically they’re similar.
Emily: They’re similar, but if you’re teaching me a melody, usually I am like “whoa, I wouldn’t go there with [that]—I would’ve never thought of that.”
hope: Do you both have different intentions when live performing versus when recording? Or, different goals of how you want it to sound or come across to the audience?
Emily: I feel like Johanne said this a little bit ago, when there are different arrangements for each project, they both end up sounding so differently. So, a lot of the time when I’m playing with someone new, I’m like how will this sound? I don’t know if I have strong intentions as to how it should sound—just that it sounds good.
Johanne: I feel like my goal in both my recorded music and my live performance is mainly to create an environment or a world for the listener. I’m really interested in taking synthetic sounds and making them feel organic or natural.
hope: You were on tour last month for a couple weeks—when you’re on the road do you have anything you do to not burn out or go insane? Any stress relievers or self-care tips?
Emily: I feel like something that we both are really careful of in going on tour is checking in with each other. We would ask how the other was doing probably every 30 seconds.
Johanne: I feel like the fact we had five days off right in the middle was really important for [not burning out]. We structured it so we had six shows down to Albuquerque, NM and five shows back. And one of my oldest friends just bought a house in Albuquerque, and so we went up to their parent’s cabin in the high high desert, and we went to these hot springs. It was amazing.
hope: That’s definitely a self-care tip, go to hot springs for a few days.
Johanne: It was amazing!
Emily: Yeah, it really was.
hope: Instead of asking about tour snacks, I like the question if you were to have to eat your way out of a pool of a certain food, which food would it be?
Johanne: Oh my god, ew!
Emily: Mine would be pierogis.
Johanne: I would have to say mashed potatoes. I said ew because I was picturing them stuck everywhere—I don’t think I could move if I were in a pool of mashed potatoes.
hope: Just plain mashed potatoes? No gravy, not anything else?
Johanne: Yeah, that’s my comfort food. [To Emily:] What are you looking at? Yours is potato-based too.
Emily: You’re right.
hope: Since you’re both are going on weekend tour, if you could only bring two albums into the van for the whole trip what are you bringing to listen to? One each.
Emily: Mine would be SZA’s album.
Johanne: Ooh, I like that!
Emily: I feel like I’ve listened to that so much with you and it’s so good. I just love that record.
Johanne: We’ve also listened to Palehound’s record a lot. That was a big record for us on the [last] tour.
hope: So, the question that I ask everyone I interview. If a biopic / movie is being made telling the story of Emily Yacina and Yohuna “On the Road,” who would you cast to play yourselves?
Emily: I get confused with these questions, I’m always who is my favorite actress? But would they be good at playing me?
hope: I’ve had a variety of answers for this question. No one usually goes with the people who are “supposed” to play them.
Emily: Yeah, we decided we would be dogs. I would want my parent’s golden retriever named, Honey, to play me.
Johanne: Can I also just be a golden retriever? Just like any golden retriever.
hope: You’ll have to do casting, you’ll have to get some outside golden retrievers. We’ll have to do a casting day.
Johanne: Yeah! Emily’s parent’s dog is kind of red—maybe I would be a little blonder?
Emily: Yeah, that’s good.
hope: Question for Emily, you’ve had two records, Heart Sky and now Katie your new EP, and you usually release the whole thing the day of without going through the infamous “album cycle” is there a reason you do so?
Emily: I think I have a really solid relationship with music after a couple years not really knowing what I wanted to be doing. When I first got to college, I was interested in pursuing it as more of my full-time career and was kind of on that track, and after about a year of trying to do it, I realized that I wasn’t really too compatible with the music industry. But also, I had been in school at the same time, so I was lucky because I had another thing I could focus on.
I was just kind of thinking about my relationship with music and whether I wanted it to be long term. And I realized the best thing for me is to keep it my own personal project and have as much control over it as possible. When I feel like when people do album cycles, there are a lot of people involved that need to get paid, like a lot of [people] will have publicists and labels and all of that, and that’s to ensure that the album is listened to enough where it makes sense. So, I feel like for me, because it’s just shitty and I am kind of secure in this space with my music that I’d rather just keep it my own thing. I just finish something, and then I put it online the next day. I feel very lucky and good about it.
hope: Question for Johanne, you’re teasing new music for 2018—can you say anything about it? Maybe any inspirations going in, differences, and feelings coming out?
Johanne: I think on the last record, I was writing for like five years and they were just little pieces of my life. And this record, I had been in New York finally feeling the most secure in my environment, maybe like ever, and I think having that sort of security and health in my life promoted this giant creative outpour and all these songs just came naturally over the past year. I’ve been working and tracking it with an engineer, and I’m really loving the way it’s sounding. It’s about 60-70% done, and I’m hoping to have it out by the end of the year.
hope: Nice. So, you are both coming to Burlington as part of a series to bring independently touring nb / gnc / female artists to the community. Do you think that the industry or rather the Brooklyn DIY scene is doing enough to be inclusive of all genders and orientations? Or could it be doing more?
Emily: In the four years I’ve lived in New York, it is much more common to see a bill with all female artists or all non-binary artists. And something I would like to see is less white shows.
Johanne: Yeah, we need to be doing more to include people of color. I also think we’re in a bit of dangerous time on our level of the indie scene, people are pretty “woke” about gender and politics and there comes a danger of tokenizing and people making sure there’s a woman-fronted band or like a queer on the bill just so you’re not just a white-dude band headlining—but like, you’re still a white-dude band headlining. There needs to be more of a dialogue about standing back.
hope: Vermont’s obsession with maple syrup is not a stereotype or exaggeration. Since you’re coming up to play in such a maple-obsessed state, what food are you putting your syrup on? (blueberry pancakes? french toast? Something else?)
Johanne: Oh my god. I went to this pizza place in Berlin once and it was a Canadian pizza place and the only thing that was Canadian about it was they had this chili oil maple syrup that you would put on top the pizza and it was honestly amazing. It was so good!
Emily: I feel like when people mix sweet and savory, it always makes me a little…
Johanne: No, that’s my like my favorite combo!
Johanne: Yeah, literally one of my favorite feelings and having my teeth be all minty fresh and then having a big glass of orange juice. I love sweet and sour.
Emily: That is wild! More power to you.
Emily Yacina & Yohuna play Burlington, VT, on Friday, March 9th with Amelia Devoid & Ebn Ezra at Muddy Waters. Entry to the event is $10 // RSVP to the event here.
- hope all is well
This Article Was Graciously Contributed By:
Amy Garlesky is a philosophy/political science student and freelance writer based in Cleveland, OH and Burlington, VT. Follow her ramblings on twitter: @ayygarl.